As of March 1, the three largest outdoor communications companies will no longer be using paper or PVC for their billboards, citing the need to transition to more environmentally friendly materials. As an alternative, Clear Channel Communications, CBS Outdoor, and Lamar Advertising will now be rolling out Eco Posters made from fully recyclable polyethylene (PE) substrate. These new posters take less time to install, don’t require any toxic glue to paste them up, don’t peel or wrinkle like paper, and can last up to 3 times as long.
Since the 1980’s, the billboard advertising industry has largely used PVC for the nearly 170,000 billboards that line our nation’s highways. An additional 200,000 billboards use thick paper also known as at ’30-sheets’, which are named after the amount of paper needed to fill the billboard. That adds up to roughly 250,000 square feet of PVC used each year, and nearly 150 million pounds of the non-biodegradeable material wind up in landfills.
Made by approved vendors like Eco-Flex and Circle Graphics, Eco Posters are composed of single pieces of polyethylene that have special pockets sewn around their edges to attach them to a billboard. Compared to the 30 sheets of paper needed for a paper billboard, their material weight is reduced from 40 pounds to only 4 pounds, and they are capable of resisting water. Eco Posters also boast improved print quality compared to both vinyl and paper.
Despite their many benefits, Eco Posters are currently 1.5 to 2 times more expensive than traditional posters that run over a span of 30 days. For advertisers that want to leave their posters up for as many as 90 days, the cost is about the same.
There is also the question of whether or not they will eventually get recycled. The makers of Eco-Flexx as well as the Outdoor Advertisers Association of America (OAAA) have pledged to work with Global Polymers, LLC (a private recycling company headquartered in Kentucky) to take the old posters and recycle them. It’s great that they are using a product that is easier to recycle than PVC, but the only way this new product will be more environmentally friendly is if they follow through with recycling.